Female Fighters Detail Russian Atrocities in Ukraine

Ukrainian female fighters who recently met with U.S. State Department officials and members of Congress said they witnessed war crimes committed by Russia during its war on Ukraine. During an interview with VOA, two Ukrainian warriors detailed personal stories and firsthand information on atrocities committed by Russian troops. United Nations investigators have said there is evidence that Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February 2022 committed war crimes. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine presented its findings on Friday, September 23, to the U.N. Human Rights Council. “They [Russian troops] use forbidden ammunitions like cluster munitions and phosphorus bombs that burn everything to the ground. It’s prohibited by all the civilized world,” Daria Zubenko, a senior sergeant in the Ukrainian armed forces, told VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching on Friday. “We know the facts of women being raped and even children.” Russia has repeatedly dismissed accusations of abuses during its war on Ukraine. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization to boost troop levels, recruiting civilians of fighting age into the military at a time when Russian armed forces are suffering significant losses. Despite the buildup, “we don’t fear,” Yaryna Chornoguz, a Ukrainian combat medic and drone operator, told VOA. She added that Ukraine’s counteroffensive, with the new security assistance from the United States, has been making progress. “We believe we win them because of our new weaponry.” Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $457.5 million in civilian security assistance to boost capacity of Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice agencies. A portion of this new assistance will continue U.S. support for the Ukrainian government’s efforts to “document, investigate and prosecute atrocities perpetrated by Russia’s forces,” according to the State Department. The following includes excerpts from the interviews, which have been edited for brevity and clarity. Interview with Daria Zubenko VOA: Can you please tell our audience your name? Daria Zubenko: My name is Daria Zubenko. I’m a a senior sergeant of Ukrainian armed forces. VOA: Which area in Ukraine are you from? Zubenko: I was born in Chernihiv. It’s the north part of Ukraine. Mostly I lived in Kyiv, studied there and worked there. VOA: What have you seen during the war? Zubenko: I was in the armed forces officially since 2018. Before, I was a volunteer paramedic in 2015. I spent some time on the front … Continue reading “Female Fighters Detail Russian Atrocities in Ukraine”

France’s Macron Lands First State Visit of Biden’s Presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Washington in early December for the first state visit of President Joe Biden’s tenure, an occasion marked by pomp and pageantry that is designed to celebrate relations between the United States and its closest allies. The December 1 visit, following the U.S. midterm elections and the Thanksgiving holiday, will be the second state visit for Macron, who was first elected to lead his country in May 2017 and won a second term earlier this year. Macron also had a state visit during the Trump years. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the visit Monday, saying it will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship with France, our oldest ally.” It will be the first time the White House has hosted a world leader for a state visit since the coronavirus outbreak. The invitation comes as a sign that relations between Biden and Macron have come full circle. The relationship tanked last year after the United States announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia. The decision by the U.S. undermined a deal that had been in place for France to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia. After the announcement of the deal, which was born out of a new security agreement between the U.S., Australia and Britain, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington, Philippe Etienne, to Paris. Biden also sought to patch thing up with France by eventually acknowledging to Macron that his administration had been “clumsy” in how it handled the issue. The Biden administration since has heaped praise on Macron for being among the most vociferous Western allies in condemning Russia’s 7-month-old war in Ukraine and pressing broad sanctions on the Russian economy and officials close to President Vladimir Putin. Central to Biden’s pitch for the presidency was a vow to restore America’s global leadership after four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” worldview. But Biden has acknowledged that Macron and other allies remain skeptical about whether he can make good on robust U.S. leadership worldwide. Biden is fond of telling the story of how, at a world leader meeting he attended soon after taking office, he declared that “America is back.” He says his counterparts, starting with Macron, countered by asking, “For how long?” Macron also was the first world leader to earn a state visit under Trump, though their relationship later became fractious. The French leader had sought … Continue reading “France’s Macron Lands First State Visit of Biden’s Presidency”

Denmark Reports Leak in Gas Pipeline in Baltic Sea 

Denmark’s maritime authority said Monday that a gas leak had been observed in a pipeline leading from Russia to Europe underneath the Baltic Sea and that there is a danger to ship traffic. The operator of Nord Stream 2 confirmed that a leak in the pipeline had been detected southeast of the Danish island Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. The pipeline runs 1,230 kilometers (764 miles) from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. It is completed and filled with gas, but gas has never been imported through it, dpa reported. The cause of the detected leak wasn’t immediately clear. The Danish energy agency said in a statement that the country’s maritime authority has issued a navigation warning and established a five-nautical mile prohibition zone around the pipeline “as it is dangerous for ship traffic.” The relevant authorities are currently coordinating the effort, and the Danish energy agency added that “outside the exclusion zone, there are no security risks associated with the leak.” The incident is not expected to have consequences for the security of the supply of Danish gas, the country’s energy agency said. A spokesman for the operator of Nord Stream 2 said a loss of pressure was detected in a tube early Monday, and the responsible marine authorities in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia were immediately informed, dpa reported. While the pressure inside the pipeline is normally 105 bar, it is now only 7 bar on the German side, spokesman Ulrich Lissek said. He fears that the pipeline, filled with 177 million cubic meters of gas, could run dry in the coming days, dpa reported. It wasn’t immediately clear what consequences would follow from that, but a German environmental group said that the leaking gas isn’t toxic. Deutsche Umwelthilfe pointed out that natural gas is methane, which partially dissolves in water and is not toxic. The deeper the gas is released in the sea, the higher the proportion that dissolves in the water, the group said, according to dpa. Even in the event of an underwater explosion, there would only be local effects, Deutsche Umwelthilfe said. The German economy ministry said it had been informed about the suspected site in Danish territorial waters and was in touch with the authorities in Germany and Denmark. The pipeline was already complete when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the certification of Nord Stream 2 on the eve of Russia’s … Continue reading “Denmark Reports Leak in Gas Pipeline in Baltic Sea “

Putin Grants Russian Citizenship to Edward Snowden

President Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden, according to a decree signed by the Russian leader on Monday.  Snowden is one of 75 foreign nationals listed by the decree as being granted Russian citizenship. The decree was published on an official government website.  Snowden, a former contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, has been living in Russia since 2013 to escape prosecution in the U.S. after leaking classified documents detailing government surveillance programs.  He was granted permanent residency in 2020 and said at the time that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship, without renouncing his U.S. citizenship.    …

US Warns Russia of ‘Horrific’ Consequences of Any Nuclear Attack in Ukraine   

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States has made it clear publicly and privately to Russia to “stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons” in the Ukraine conflict following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that he would use any means to defend Russia.   “It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific, and we’ve made that very clear,” Blinken told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” show in an interview broadcast late Sunday.   Blinken said using nuclear weapons “would have catastrophic effects for, of course, the country using them, but for many others as well.”   The U.S. response came after Putin signaled the possibility of a nuclear attack last week as he called up 300,000 military reservists to help Russia fight in its seven-month invasion of Ukraine. The troop augmentation came after Russian battlefield setbacks, with Kyiv’s forces recapturing large swaths of territory in northeast Ukraine that Russia had seized in the early weeks of the war.   Britain’s defense ministry said Monday that the first of the call-ups had started to arrive at military bases, but that Russia faces administrative and logistical challenges in training those troops.     “Many of the drafted troops will not have had any military experience for some years,” the ministry said. “The lack of military trainers, and the haste with which Russia has started the mobilization, suggests that many of the drafted troops will deploy to the front line with minimal relevant preparation. They are likely to suffer a high attrition rate.”       Protests against call-up Widespread protests against Putin’s troop call-up have erupted in Russia, with police arresting hundreds of demonstrators participating in street protests in Moscow and elsewhere.     In Russia’s Siberia region Monday, a 25-year-old man shot a military commandant at an enlistment center, the local governor said.      Many men opposed to Putin’s war or fearful of being killed in the battlefront have abruptly fled Russia on flights to other countries, while others have joined long queues of cars on land routes headed to the Russian borders with Finland, Georgia and other countries.         Russia is in the midst of staging five days of disputed referenda in four regions of Ukraine it either fully or partially controls, votes where it assumes the local residents will support Russian annexation, which would give Moscow a pretext to defend the newly claimed territory. In some instances, Russian soldiers have … Continue reading “US Warns Russia of ‘Horrific’ Consequences of Any Nuclear Attack in Ukraine   ”

Russia’s Prigozhin Admits Link to Wagner Mercenaries for First Time 

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that he had founded the Wagner Group private military company in 2014, the first public confirmation of a link he has previously denied and sued journalists for reporting. The Wagner Group, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, among other countries. The press service of Prigozhin’s Concord catering firm posted his comments on the social network VKontakte in response to a request for comment from a Russian news site on why he had stopped denying his links to Wagner. “I cleaned the old weapons myself, sorted out the bulletproof vests myself and found specialists who could help me with this. From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later came to be called the Wagner Battalion,” Prigozhin said. “I am proud that I was able to defend their right to protect the interests of their country,” he said in the statement. Prigozhin’s Concord catering firm confirmed to Reuters that the statement was genuine. Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” due to his company’s Kremlin catering contracts, has been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Wagner. They also accuse him of funding a troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency that Washington says tried to influence U.S. elections. Prigozhin has previously sued outlets including investigative website Bellingcat, Russian news site Meduza and now-shuttered radio station Echo of Moscow for reporting his links to Wagner. Wagner was founded in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and started providing support to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. …

Tax Cut Plans Pull British Pound to 4 Decade Lows 

The British pound has resumed a slide against the U.S. dollar that picked up pace last week after the U.K.’s new government outlined plans to cut taxes and boost spending. The pound dipped as low as $1.0349 per U.S. dollar early Monday but then rebounded to $1.0671, down 2.3%. The tax-cut plan has sparked concerns that increased public borrowing will worsen the nation’s cost-of-living crisis. The British currency plunged over 3% on Friday. It’s trading at levels last seen in the early 1980s. Other currencies have also weakened against the dollar as the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates to combat inflation. Japan’s central bank intervened last week to support the yen, slowing its decline against the dollar. Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng announced the sweeping tax cuts that he said would boost economic growth and generate increased revenue without introducing corresponding spending reductions. He also said previously announced plans to cap soaring energy bills for homes and businesses would be financed through borrowing. Kwarteng offered few details on the costs of the program or its impact on the government’s own targets for reducing deficits and borrowing, but one independent analysis expected it to cost taxpayers 190 billion pounds ($207 billion) this fiscal year. The news triggered the pound’s biggest drop against the U.S. dollar since March 18, 2020, when then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first nationwide lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19. The British currency closed at $1.0822 in London on Friday, from $1.1255 on Thursday. Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took office less than three weeks ago, is racing to combat inflation at a nearly 40-year high of 9.9% and head off a prolonged recession. Facing a general election in two years, she needs to deliver results quickly. …

Italy Voters Shift Sharply, Reward Meloni’s Far-Right Party

 Italian voters rewarded Giorgia Meloni’s euroskeptic party with neo-fascist roots, propelling the country toward what likely would be its first far-right-led government since World War II, based on partial results Monday from the election for Parliament.  In a victory speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni struck a moderate tone after projections based on votes counted from some two-thirds of polling stations showed her Brothers of Italy party ahead of other contenders in Sunday’s balloting.  “If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country),” Meloni said at her party’s Rome headquarters.  “Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray (the country) as we never have.”  Meloni on track to be a first The formation of a ruling coalition, with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and center-right allies, could take weeks. If Meloni, 45, succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country’s premiership.  The mandate to try to form a government is given by Italy’s president after consultations with party leaders.  Meanwhile, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, whose government collapsed two months ago, stays on in a caretaker role.  Differences among Meloni’s potential coalition partners could loom.  She has solidly backed the supplying of Ukraine with arms to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. In contrast, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, who before the war was a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has voiced concern that Western sanctions could end up hurting Italy’s economic interests more than punishing Russia’s.  Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, another long-time Putin admirer, has said that his inclusion in a center-right bloc’s coalition would guarantee that Italy stays firmly anchored in the European Union and one of its most reliable members.  With Italy’s households and businesses struggling with staggeringly high energy bills as winter approaches, Meloni has demurred from Salvini’s push to swell already-debt-laden Italy by tens of billions of euros for energy relief.  What kind of government the eurozone’s third-largest economy might be getting was being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and her ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement … Continue reading “Italy Voters Shift Sharply, Reward Meloni’s Far-Right Party”

Fire Breaks Out at World’s Biggest Produce Market in Paris

A billowing column of dark smoke towered over Paris Sunday from a warehouse blaze at a massive produce market that supplies the French capital and surrounding region with much of its fresh food and bills itself as the largest of its kind in the world. Firefighters urged people to stay away from the area in Paris’ southern suburbs, as 100 officers and 30 fire engines battled the blaze at the Rungis International Market. Capt. Marc Le Moine, a representative for the Paris fire service, said no one was injured. The fire was brought under control and there was no risk of it spreading from the soccer field-sized warehouse, covering an area of 7,000 square meters (1.7 acres), he said. The cause of the blaze was unknown but will be investigated, he added. The sprawling wholesale market is a veritable town unto itself, with more than 12,000 people working there and warehouses filled with fruit and vegetables, seafood, meats, dairy products and flowers from across France and around the world. …

Italy’s Right-wing, Led by Meloni, Wins Election – Exit Polls

A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party looks set to win a clear majority in the next parliament, exit polls said Sunday after voting ended in an Italian national election. An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said the bloc of conservative parties, that also includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, won between 41% and 45% of the vote, enough to guarantee control of both houses of parliament. Italy’s electoral law favors groups that manage to create pre-ballot pacts, giving them an outsized number of seats by comparison with their vote tally. Full results are expected by early Monday. If confirmed, the result would cap a remarkable rise for Meloni, whose party won only 4% of the vote in the last national election in 2018, but this time around was forecast to emerge as Italy’s largest group on 22.5%-26.5%. As leader of the biggest party in the winning alliance, she is the obvious choice to become Italy’s first woman prime minister, but the transfer of power is traditionally slow, and it could take several weeks before the new government is sworn in. Meloni, 45, plays down her party’s post-fascist roots and portrays it as a mainstream conservative group. She has pledged to support Western policy on Ukraine and not take undue risks with the third largest economy in the eurozone. Italy’s first autumn national election in over a century was triggered by party infighting that brought down Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad national unity government in July. Italy has a history of political instability, and the next prime minister will lead the country’s 68th government since 1946 and face a host of challenges, notably soaring energy costs and growing economic headwinds. The outcome of the vote was also being watched nervously in European capitals and on financial markets, given the desire to preserve unity in dealings with Russia and concerns over Italy’s daunting debt mountain. The new, slimmed-down parliament will not meet until Oct. 13, at which point the head of state will summon party leaders and decide on the shape of the new government. …

In Moldova, Thousands Protest in New Call for Government’s Resignation

Several thousand people protested in Moldova’s capital Sunday for the second straight weekend to demand the resignation of the country’s pro-Western government amid mounting anger over spiraling natural gas prices and inflation. The small east European nation, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, has seen political tensions rise in recent months as gas prices soar following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A Reuters reporter estimated the crowd at about 5,000 outside the official residence of President Maia Sandu — slightly smaller than last Sunday’s gathering. Protesters chanted “Down with Maia Sandu,” and “Down with the government.” The rallies are the largest since Sandu won a landslide election victory in 2020 on an anti-corruption platform but pose no immediate threat to the president and her administration. Sandu has repeatedly condemned Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and is pushing for membership of the European Union, which has provided the ex-Soviet state with considerable assistance. Her critics charge she should have negotiated a better gas deal with Russia, Moldova’s main supplier. On Friday, Moldova’s gas regulator raised prices by 27% for households. The protests have been organized by the opposition party of Ilan Shor, an exiled businessman convicted of fraud in connection with a $1 billion bank scandal. The chief suspect in that fraud, business magnate Vlad Plahotniuc, is also outside Moldova, his whereabouts unknown. Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said she was focused on helping those with low incomes. “The problems of the country and its people will not be solved on the streets,” she wrote on the point.md news site. “We are trying to solve the problems of people most in need.” Protesters have vowed to hold weekly rallies until Sandu and her government leave office. An encampment of about 100 tents remains around Moldova’s parliament and Sunday protesters set up another dozen tents outside the president’s residence.  …

Hundreds Arrested in Russian Crackdown on Anti-Mobilization Protests  

Nearly 800 people have been detained in Russia as protests against the country’s partial military mobilization continue in cities across the country. As of Sunday, at least 796 people had been detained in 33 cities, with almost half of the total reported in the capital, Moscow, according to OVD-Info. The human rights group, which monitors political arrests and detentions in Russia, said that some of those detained in the crackdown on dissent following this week’s military call-up were minors. The demonstrations erupted within hours after President Vladimir Putin on September 21 announced the partial military mobilization, which is intended to buttress Russian military forces fighting in Ukraine. Russian police have been mobilized in cities where protests were called for by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of opposition politician Alexey Navalny. Images on Russian media have shown scenes of police using force against demonstrators, and eyewitnesses have said that the number of protesters have diminished since the first rallies. Many young men detained during the protests have reportedly been summoned to register for military service. The call-up came as Russian forces suffered significant losses of occupied territories in Ukraine’s east owing to a counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian military. Putin followed up on his mobilization order on September 24 by imposing harsher penalties against Russians who willingly surrendered to Ukrainian forces or refused orders to mobilize. Russian officials have said that up to 300,000 reserve forces will be called up and that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be drafted to fight. However, Russian media reports have surfaced that men who have never been in the military or who are past draft age are being called up, and foreign media have reported that the real goal is to mobilize more than 1 million soldiers, which the Kremlin denies. Western officials say that Russia has suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties, accounting for both deaths and injuries, since it launched its unprovoked war in Ukraine in February. The mobilization to replenish those losses has seen men across Russia sent to register, reports of Russian citizens attempting to flee the country, and even rare complaints by pro-Kremlin voices. Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the state-backed media outlet RT, wrote on her Telegram channel on September 24 that while it had been announced that only people up to the age of 35 would be recruited, “summonses are going to … Continue reading “Hundreds Arrested in Russian Crackdown on Anti-Mobilization Protests  “

Pope urges Italians to Have More Children, Welcome Migrants 

Pope Francis traveled to southern Italy on Sunday to close out an Italian church congress that coincided with Italy’s national election, and delivered a message that hit on key domestic campaign issues including immigration. Neither Francis nor his hosts referred to the vote during the open-air Mass, though Italy’s bishops conference had earlier urged Italians to cast ballots in the eagerly watched election that could bring Italy its first far-right government since World War II. At the end of the outdoor Mass in Matera, Francis spoke off the cuff asking Italians to have more children. “I’d like to ask Italy: More births, more children,” Francis said. Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and Francis has frequently lamented its “demographic winter.” Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who campaigned on a “God, family and homeland” mantra, has also called for Italy to reverse its demographic trends by proposing bigger financial incentives for couples to have children. Francis also weighed in on a perennial issue in Italy, recalling that Sunday coincided with the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Francis called for a future in which “God’s plan” is implemented, with migrants and victims of human trafficking living in peace and dignity, and for a more “inclusive and fraternal future.” He added: “Immigrants are to be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated.” Meloni and her center-right alliance have vowed to resume a strict crackdown on migrants coming to Italy via Libyan-based smugglers. The center-left Democratic Party has among other things called for an easier path to citizenship for children of newcomers. The Mass was celebrated by a protege of Francis, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who is head of the Italian bishops’ conference and has a long affiliation with the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based charity known for its outreach to migrants and the poor. The 85-year-old Francis appeared tired during the visit, which was scheduled before Italy’s snap elections were called and came a day after he made a separate day trip to the Umbrian hilltop town of Assisi. Francis has been using a cane and wheelchair this year, due to strained knee ligaments that make walking and standing difficult. His trip to Matera, the southern Basilicata city known for its cave dwellings, underwent a slight, last-minute change due to storms that belted much of the Italian peninsula overnight: Originally scheduled to fly by helicopter Sunday morning from the Vatican’s … Continue reading “Pope urges Italians to Have More Children, Welcome Migrants “

Italians Vote in Election That Could Take Far-Right to Power

The Italians voted Sunday in an election that could move the country’s politics sharply toward the right during a critical time for Europe, with war in Ukraine fueling skyrocketing energy bills and testing the West’s resolve to stand united against Russian aggression.  Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500GMT) and by noon turnout was equal to or slightly less than at the same time during Italy’s last general election in 2018. The counting of paper ballots was expected to begin shortly after they close at 11 p.m. (2100 GMT), with projections based on partial results coming early Monday morning. Publication of opinion polls is banned in the two weeks leading up to the election, but polls before that showed far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, with its neo-fascist roots, the most popular. That suggested Italians were poised to vote their first far-right government into power since World War II. Close behind was former Premier Enrico Letta and his center-left Democratic Party. “Today you can help write history,” Meloni tweeted Sunday morning. Letta, for his part, tweeted a photo of himself at the ballot box. “Have a good vote!” he wrote.  Meloni is part of a right-wing alliance with anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time premier who heads the Forza Italia party he created three decades ago. Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign coalitions, meaning the Democrats are disadvantaged since they failed to secure a similarly broad alliance with left-leaning populists and centrists. If Meloni becomes premier, she will be the first woman in Italy to hold the office. But assembling a viable, ruling coalition could take weeks. Nearly 51 million Italians were eligible to vote. Pollsters, though, predicted turnout could be even lower than the record-setting low of 73% in the last general election in 2018. They say despite Europe’s many crises, many voters feel alienated from politics, since Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election — each led by someone who hadn’t run for office. Early voters in Rome expressed concerns about Italian politics as a whole. “I hope we’ll see honest people, and this is very difficult nowadays,” said Adriana Gherdo, at a polling station in the city.  In Milan, voter Alberto Veltroni said he thought the outcome was still anyone’s guess. “I expect that these will be difficult elections to read, to understand, with unexpected votes as … Continue reading “Italians Vote in Election That Could Take Far-Right to Power”

Milan Fashion Week Hears Calls for More Designer Diversity

Haitian Italian designer Stella Jean returned to the Milan runway after a two-year hiatus with a tour de force that highlighted the talents of 10 new designers of color whose design history is tied to Italy. Jean pledged in 2020 not to return to Milan Fashion Week, which opened Wednesday, until she was not the only Black designer. The We Are Made in Italy movement she founded with Black American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngomno ensured she would not be. Maximilian Davis, a 27-year-old British fashion designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, is making his debut as the creative director for Salvatore Ferragamo. Filipino American designer Rhuigi Villasenor is bringing Bally back to the runway for the first time in 20 years. Tokyo James, founded by British Nigerian designer Iniye Tokyo James, is presenting a women’s-only collection. Jean is headlining a runway show with Buchanan and five new We Are Made in Italy designers, including a Vietnamese apparel designer, an Italian Indian accessory designer and an African American bag designer. It is the third WAMI group to present their collections in Milan. “We are making ourselves felt,” Jean told The Associated Press. “We invited all these young people. We created the space. There have been gains.” Buchanan opened the show with jersey knitwear with a denim feel from his Sansonvino 6 line, followed by capsule collections by the latest group of Fabulous Five WAMI designers, and Jean’s creations combining Italian tailoring with artisanal references she sources around the globe. Each of the new WAMI designers share a connection with Italy, either through family or by relocating to study or work here. Italian Indian designer Eileen Claudia Akbaraly showed her Made for a Woman brand that makes ethically sourced raffia garments and accessories from Madagascar. New York-based designer Akila Stewart founded the FATRA bag brand that works with reused plastic waste. India-born Neha Poorswani designs shoes under the name “Runway Reinvented.” Vietnamese designer Phang Dang Hoang’s apparel line mixes Asian and Western cultures, and Korean designer Kim Gaeun’s Villain brand combines elements of traditional Korean costumes mixed with modern hip-hop culture. “There are so many Italians who are not Italians, who are immigrants who feel Italian. I think that is so beautiful,” Stewart said. The show closed on a celebratory note, with the models, designers and activists gathered on the runway, clapping and swaying to Cynthia Erivo’s … Continue reading “Milan Fashion Week Hears Calls for More Designer Diversity”

Russia’s Lavrov Dismisses Western ‘Hysteria’ Over Ukraine Referenda

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed Ukrainian and Western condemnation of what they say are sham referenda in four regions of Ukraine. “The hysteria which we have seen is very telling,” Sergey Lavrov told a news conference at the United Nations on Saturday, after he addressed the General Assembly’s annual meeting. Voting began Friday and will run through Tuesday in the provinces of Luhansk, Kherson and the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those areas could vote. In Ukraine, some local officials said voters were being intimidated and threatened. Kyiv and Western nations warn that the referenda are aimed at annexing the occupied areas and denounce them as a violation of international law. “As was said by President Putin, we will unconditionally respect the results of these democratic processes,” Lavrov said. Ukraine says it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory and has requested that the U.N. Security Council meet Tuesday to discuss the escalation. The referenda were quickly organized after Ukraine recaptured large swaths of the northeastern part of the country in a counteroffensive earlier this month. By annexing the four areas into Russia, Western officials fear Moscow could portray Ukrainian military operations to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, potentially even using that to justify a nuclear response. Calls for peace At the United Nations, Russia’s strategic partners urged an end to the conflict, which has exacerbated global food, fuel and financial crises. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said Beijing does not want to see the crisis “spilling over” and called for talks. “The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture,” he said. India’s foreign minister said his country respects the U.N. Charter and sees dialogue and diplomacy as the “only way out.” “It is therefore in our collective interest to work constructively, both within the United Nations and outside, in finding an early resolution to this conflict,” Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said. Asked about engaging with the U.S. or Europeans, Russia’s Lavrov says his government is not opposed to it. “We aren’t saying no to contacts,” he said, adding that “it is always better to talk than not to talk.” But he emphasized that in the present situation, Russia would not take the first step. Mass crimes The head of … Continue reading “Russia’s Lavrov Dismisses Western ‘Hysteria’ Over Ukraine Referenda”

Ukrainian Push Slowed by Rain, River and Russian Holdouts

What had been a lightning push by Ukraine to drive Moscow’s forces from the eastern Kharkiv region slowed to a brutal slog Saturday, stalled by heavy rain and Russian resistance. In the frontline town of Kupiansk against a background of constant shelling noise a column of dark smoke rose across the Oskil River, which separates the Ukrainian-held west bank from the east, still disputed by Russian forces. “For now, the rain is making it difficult to use heavy weapons everywhere. We can only use paved roads,” Ukrainian army sergeant Roman Malyna told AFP, as tanks and APCs maneuvered under the downpour.    “For now, because it’s hard to move forward due to the weather, we are targeting their armored vehicles, ammunition depots and groups of soldiers,” he said.   On Friday, Kupiansk’s military administrator Andriy Kanashevych told AFP that it might take Ukrainian forces 10 days to fully secure the area. Most of the shellfire on Saturday was outgoing — Ukrainian artillery targeting Russian positions in the woods beyond the east of the town — but with a Russian drone spotted overhead tension prevailed.   A few refugees were walking toward Ukrainian territory across the damaged bridge, its handrails still painted in the red, white and blue colors of Kupiansk’s former Russian occupiers. Two Ukrainian soldiers, well-equipped with U.S.-style assault rifles and body armor, and in good spirits despite fatigue and concern over the Russian drone buzzing above the debris-strewn road, also crossed back. One of them, using the nom de guerre “Mario,” said it was too soon to say when the east bank would come completely under Ukrainian control but was confident the Russians were in retreat.   “Only their bodies will be left behind,” he said. “In general, it’s all good, taking into account the scale of the operation, we’ve had almost no losses,” he told AFP.   Most of Kupiansk, a key rail hub once used by Russia to supply its forces further south on the Donetsk battlefront, fell to Ukraine in this month’s counterattack against the invader. But a narrow strip of the Kharkiv region on the east side of the Oskil River remains in Russian hands and prevents Ukraine from pushing on into the Lugansk region, which Moscow holds and is seeking to annex. “Yes, we have enough weapons and men, but it depends on what happens on the other side,” Sergeant Malyna said, referring … Continue reading “Ukrainian Push Slowed by Rain, River and Russian Holdouts”

After Partial Russian Retreat, Chilling Signs of Horrors Against Ukrainians Revealed

Almost 2,000 innocent people have been killed by Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Ukraine – some just for speaking Ukrainian or having Ukrainian symbols. VOA’s Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze was granted exclusive access to the scene of a mass graveyard in Izium in the Kharkiv region that contains more than 400 bodies.   Most of them apparently died particularly violent deaths, with many victims found with their hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks, broken bones, and gunshot wounds.     United Nations experts and Ukrainian officials have pointed to new evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. The head of a U.N.-mandated investigation body said Friday war crimes including rape, torture and the confinement of children have been committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.   “Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, who heads the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.   He did not specify who was to blame, but the commission has focused on areas previously occupied by Russian forces, such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.   Investigators from the commission, created by the rights council in March, visited 27 places and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses.   A U.S. envoy told the council, “Numerous sources indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and forcible deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens.”     U.S. Ambassador Michele Taylor, U.S. permanent representative to the council, added, “We urge the commissioners to continue to examine the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances.”   Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians.   Russia was called on to respond to the allegations at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting, but its seat was left empty. There was no immediate official reaction from Moscow. Mobilization fallout   In the meantime, more than 730 people were detained across Russia at protests Saturday against a mobilization order of 300,000 military reservists, a rights group said, three days after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first military call-up since World War II for the conflict in Ukraine.   The independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said it was aware of detentions in 32 different cities, from St. Petersburg to Siberia. Unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russian law, which also forbids any activity considered to defame the … Continue reading “After Partial Russian Retreat, Chilling Signs of Horrors Against Ukrainians Revealed”